Chapter 6: Corporate Culture -The Invisible Hand of the Company Part 4
If you take a high integrity person and put them in a toxic and/or unethical culture, which would win? In other words, to what degree can an individual influence and change corporate culture? It’s a question we’ll come back to multiple times in this chapter.
Lets start with an extreme example: What if Harry T Lobo, a highly respected and effective CEO we met in Chapter 4, were made the CEO of Goldman Sachs, a company thought by many to have an unethical culture. (Greg Smith’s very public resignation made public the callus and thoughtless way Goldman treated their clients. See this post on the subject for more.) Harry, who is not known for his modesty, didn’t think he could change the company value system. Harry told me “[It would] depend on the company, and how long the value system existed. Goldman Sachs [is very big and is] proud of the way it operates.” Harry explained to me that everyone working there shared those values, and the organization is too big to change by the CEO alone.
It took Harry five years to change the culture of the mid-sized organization he is currently running. When he arrived, the company was full of “empire builders,” with a “negative, finger pointing, aggressive culture.” People who were resistant to the values he was instilling are “no longer around.” Harry said that he let this happen over time, as people realized they no longer fit in they left, and people who espoused the values he was looking for were promoted. (And see this post to see a case where Harry dismissed someone for being manipulative.)
This is a common theme I heard throughout the interviews I conducted, and is well described in the literature: People who fit best with the company values, whatever they may be, will tend to be promoted more quickly.
So how did Harry respond when he was working as a Senior VP in a toxic culture? Did he change the culture, or was he changed by it?